IT was a hot afternoon in early January when arsonist Andrew Rodney John Merrick got off a train and moved quickly into bushland west of Fassifern railway station.
He climbed a hill, trudged along a dirt road and got to work; hastily sparking four separate fires using 22 points of ignition.
Vision of the fire ground would reveal aerosol cans and what looked like a jerry can among the charred and blackened ground.
And it seemed that for an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 21 years in jail, Merrick’s case was moving unexpectedly swiftly through the criminal justice system.
News: Crime and court
He was arrested on Thursday, pleaded guilty in Maitland Local Court on Friday and was listed for sentence in Toronto Local Court on Tuesday – a rapid evolution, even for a much less serious criminal matter.
But Merrick, 25, of Cessnock, who remains behind bars since his arrest, would not be sentenced on Tuesday. Instead, Legal Aid solicitor Hannah Bruce raised concerns about Merrick’s “capacity” with Magistrate Alan Railton and the matter was adjourned until next Tuesday.
Police who charged Merrick had noted in a bail determination form that “the accused appears to have a cognitive disability although he has not been formally diagnosed”.
This offence... relates to the deliberate lighting of bushfires during a high fire danger period. This reckless behaviour has the potential to cause serious property damage and loss of life.Police wrote in a determination form for Andrew Merrick.
Merrick had gotten off a train at Fassifern railway station about 5.30pm on January 3 and walked into bushland between the station and Miller Road.
He lit the four fires and walked back to the railway station while staff were calling triple-zero.
Ironically, the State Crime Command’s Arson Unit was already in the area on that day, investigating a separate spate of blazes sparked in bushland at Teralba.
A 17-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer has been charged over two fires at Teralba and a blaze that was sparked in Archery Road, Wakefield, about six kilometres west of Fassifern railway station, the day after Merrick lit his fires.